.- In a meeting today with Iran's new ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI called on Iran to begin a new era of international cooperation and to guarantee religious freedom to Catholics in the country.
Noting that he has spoken on the importance of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue before, the Pope emphasized that “the establishment of cordial relations between believers of different religions is an urgent need in our day, in order to build a world that is more human and that conforms more to God's plan of creation."
The Pope stressed that "Catholics have been present in Iran from the first centuries of Christianity and have always been an integral part of the nation's life and culture." He also called on the Iranian authorities to acknowledged the religious diversity of their nation and to “strengthen and guarantee Christians the freedom of professing their faith and of assuring the Catholic community conditions essential to its existence, especially the possibility of counting on sufficient religious personnel and their ability to move within the country to ensure religious service to the faithful.”
Iran, the Holy Father said, is “a great nation that possesses eminent spiritual traditions and its people have a profound religious sensibility... [which] can be reason to hope for a greater openness and confident collaboration with the international community.”
Given these roots, the Pope said he hopes for “a new phase of international cooperation, more concretely rooted in humanitarian principles and in the effective assistance of those who suffer, one less dependent on the cold calculation of exchange and technological or economic benefits.”
Pope Benedict also assured Iran that “the Holy See, by its nature and its mission, is directly interested in the life of the local churches and wishes to make all the necessary efforts to help the Catholic community in Iran keep alive the signs of Christian presence in a spirit of benevolent understanding with all.”
In a show of solidarity with the universal church in Iran, the Pope concluded his remarks by telling the Catholics in Iran that he is “near to them and prays that they persevere in maintaining their own identity and remaining rooted to their land, generously working with all their compatriots in the development of the nation.”